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What's An University For? A View from For-Profit Corner

The issues surrounding For-Profit institutions have been contested around whether allowing For-Profits inevitably means profiteering, and given the prospect of students taking loans to go to For-Profit institutions, profiteering at the taxpayers’ expense. On the other hand, For-Profit institutions argued their case as the ones driving educational innovations in cost and delivery, challenging the status quo in Higher Education, which has, they claimed, failed to change with time.
These battles over entitlements, however, should be seen in the context of a broader debate about what the universities are for.
Collini (2012) defines the ‘modern university’ with the following four characteristics: “1. That it provides some form of Post-secondary-school education, where education signals something more than professional training. 2. That it furthers some form of advanced scholarship or research whose character is not wholly dictated by the need to solve the immediate practical problems. 3. That…

The Story in Person: My Indian Calling

When I started on my project on building a global university, a friend advised me not to involve India. Because, he said, India is chaotic, its Higher Education system completely corrupted by get-rich-quick schemes and mercenary institutions. This was, in a way, a known fact: The Economist called India Education's Wild West and it was an apt description. However, for the very reason of being the wild west, it was attractive: It is not just the wild west, it is also the biggest opportunity in education that exists today. It is a combination of large number of aspiring young people, a broken Higher Education system and employers constrained by lack of employable manpower: Something that an education company usually dream to solve.
However, there was wisdom in my friend's advice: His point was not about the lack of opportunity, but the possibility that no matter how well-intentioned the project was, it is easy to get crowded out in India. Because no one seems to be doing a good …

'Useful' Degree: Which subject should you study?

Choosing college is one of most excruciating rituals in one's life: Full of dilemmas, hopes, disappointments and illusions of big decisions, an act which makes us middle class perhaps. This is one event that creates an enormous amount of chatter, usually by one's parents but, if things go wrong, even by the neighbours, and among friends: This may mean good byes, and welcomes, losing friends and getting new ones. One anthropologist calls this stage 'liminal', a transitory experience between home and adulthood, a brief period of freedom, perhaps, between compliance and responsibility. But, in the middle of the blinding array of choices one has to make during the period, one that stands out is about choosing a subject - what to study when you go to college?
I am uniquely qualified to speak about this as I made, perhaps, a wrong choice. But, for me, it was never really a choice. I grew up in pre-liberalisation India, and when I went to college in 1986, everything was alre…

The 'Decoupling': On The Future of A Degree

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Bill Gates have now given us a new word, or more precisely, a new meaning to an old word: Decoupling. He suggests that knowledge and employability may be 'decoupled' from university degree in the coming days. Which effectively means that he is predicting university degree may not be relevant anymore. It may sound counter-intuitive, but coming from Gates, the statement is worth exploration.
One could argue that college education was never more popular: College-going population worldwide has surged and is continuing to grow. So, the demise, or irrelevance, or, if we must play safe, 'decoupling', of a college degree may sound fantastical. But then, the surge needs to be seen in the perspective of the global jobs crisis. The college has not created jobs, nor it can: It has been an instrument to sell middle class dreams to many, only for those to fail eventually to achieve the promised life.
In fact, the surge in college education may be seen as a part of the global consum…

The Promise of Return

A migrant is defined both by the journey he makes, of leaving, and the journey he never ends up making, of return. In that sense, I am a true migrant: I have left, and I am forever returning. Unlike the others with a stable life and steady aim, I have not fully assumed the identities of my host and not given up that of my home; nor did I do the opposite, like some others, and clung to my home identity and rejected what came my way. I have, consciously, let the journey change me, but preserved my deep desire to make the opposite journey some day.
But this is not just a transmutation between the home and the host, but the desire to renew myself that makes me a migrant. It is not about search of my roots, which I know full well where they are, nor a denial of my self-chosen circumstances, but rather the pursuit of an identity, an emotional construct of a 'universal' identity that defines my being and becoming. So, this is not about giving up or taking in, but absorbing, observin…

Why Train For Global Employability?

A debate we are having in the company at this time is how to market our courses in the UK, and at the core of it is the course we developed aimed at aspiring undergraduates abroad, titled Global Employability Programme. 
With our initial market research and interactions, we see immediate traction for this course in countries like India and China. This isn't, indeed, a standard employability product: One that advises candidates to be on time for interview and be properly dressed, and help make cosmetic changes to their CVs. There is no stereotyping, as would usually happen with a battery of psychometric tests. It is, in line with our operating mantra, a new generation course, where the learner, a 'talent', must imagine himself/herself as a business. Indeed, the key shift in this view is that the candidate is not a 'product', something which inertly presents itself to buyers, but the 'maker', an enterprise, which juggle with his/her multiple abilities as …

Adventures On The Margin

Can one be born at the wrong end of time? If it's a matter of opinion poll, it would certainly seem likely, because most of us will possibly want to be born at our parents' era, when things were more certain, opportunities were more forthcoming and in general, life seemed to be simpler. And, surely, some among us would want to be born in the future, when the advances in medicine are complete, and, as we hope, advances in digital communication would allow us to achieve perfect democracies.
But, like other matters of reality, opinion polls can not tell us whether we are really at the wrong end of time. The omnipotent fact that we are all products of our own time, the past is our past and the future is our future, and such thinking only represents a denial of the present; may be a defeat. So, instead of being at the wrong end of time, we can indeed be misfits. This may be shameful, and that's why we flip it when we blame the time around us and retreat to a time we haven'…

Dog in the Window: Exploring Private Higher Education Pricing Strategies

In private sector higher education, pricing is often the most interesting area to explore. More often than not, institutions tend to take one of the two positions on pricing: Either they want to be top of the range, creating exclusivity with the pricing itself, or, for those who are less sure of themselves, undercutting others and creating 'affordable' options become the name of the game. Both options, in my view, have inherent limitations, and one needs smart strategies for pricing to be successful.
Those who price their offerings at top of the range enjoy the advantage of high margins, which allow them to afford better infrastructure and people, at least theoretically. In fact, this is, in many ways than not, a more sustainable strategy than trying to undercut the market and getting into a 'low-price trap' (more on this later). But, top of the range pricing also has inherent disadvantages. By pricing top of the range, the institution may miss out meritorious student…

An Imaginary Exercise: Building An University from Scratch

I wrote about 'How To Build A Higher Education Brand' yesterday: One email respondent came back saying if there is any practical advice I could give to someone setting up a private university in India. I am therefore attempting an imaginary exercise here, as if you are trying to set up a private university in India. Whether I shall try to do it myself now is a different question, though. I believe this is 'the best of the times and the worst of the times' to set up a private university in India, depending on the context, exact geographic location etc. It is the best of the time because it has now been proved that private universities offer no easy money, so the black money that corrupted the field is somewhat in retreat: It is the worst of the time because such consolidation will invariably shake the students' confidence further. Moreover, context is important: The Indian student demand is at an inflection point, and an university that anticipates and satisfies th…

How To Build A Higher Education Brand

Being in the middle of a Higher Ed revolution, this is one question I face all too often: How does one build a new Higher Education brand? The obvious answers, research, league table standing, often do not work for those who are asking the question. The big budget, state sponsored Higher Education still around, but this is not where the action is. It is more on the fringes of Higher Education, driven by those 'Edupunks and Edupreneurs', as Anya Kamenetz calls them. Higher Education, as we know it, has become costly, inaccessible and a bastion of social privilege, rather than an engine of social mobility. And, therefore, in this day of middle class revolts, falling job rates and twilight of the age of conformity, a new Higher Education is happening at the fringes: It is here that the brand creation question gets asked most often.
And, this is therefore an important question to answer. Because there is so little these new Higher Education institutions can learn from the establi…

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